Be a Grill Master Not a Grill Disaster

This Independence Day, Do NOT Feel The Burn

Independence Day is iconic and ironic. When we’re not doing healthy things like playing softball, having a family picnic, or watching fireworks with family, we’re probably overdoing the inevitable afternoon grillapolooza. ‘Tis the season to fire up the Barbie, throw on some dogs and burgers and shrimps and ribs and veg kabobs and … you get the picture.

Normally we just write off this time as a once per year gorge fest, turning a blind eye to any health concerns as well. I’m not saying that your burger and braut bonanza can’t pack on pounds and clog your arteries, but the good news is that Fourth of July cookouts don’t have to be bad for you in other aspects, such as cancer.

In this regard, most people think that the health of the grill is all about what you choose to cook. But your cooking technique is just as important, and can either decrease or increase the carcinogens you’re downing by the spork-full. Even better, this solution actually makes your food taste even better!

All About The Burn

All meats have amino acids (such as creatine) and sugars. Fine. But if you grill them at very high temperatures, they naturally produce molecules called heterocyclic amines (HCAs, also found in cigarette smoke). We’ve known about these cancer-causing agents for 15 years now, and since then three more HCAs caused by grilling meat have been added to the list.

Given this, you’re just going to have to be at peace with a couple of things. First, you can’t change the fact that meat on planet Earth is composed of amino acids and sugars. It is what it is. And you also can’t change the fact that they can form chemicals that are really really bad for you.

But what you can control is the total amount of HCA you’re eating. The easiest way to do this is to control how well-done you take your meat and what kind of meat you’re eating.

· Well-done meat has 3.5 times more HCA than medium-rare meat.

· When you compare different types of meats, sadly and tragically the highest concentration comes from bacon. The second highest is from fried pork, followed by beef, and then chicken. (This particular study didn’t look at fish.)

Where The Burn Is Best

This is great news for people who veg out at the grill. Feel free to singe away, knock yourself out and flame it up. Plants don’t have the combination of creatine and sugar found in meats, nor do they have the fat drippings that smoke up into the other grilling-induced carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Burn baby, you got this. Grilled pineapple is fabulous with a bit of sesame oil over it. We grill apricots and peaches in exactly the same way and they are luscious. When it comes to your plate still smokin’ hot from the grill, the sweetness of the fruit deepens … it’ll make you weep.

But What If You’re A Meat-o-phile?

Sure you want to be healthy, but … bacon. Yes, you want to consume fewer carcinogens, but … ribs. And you’d love to go all lean and green, but … salmon.

The good news is cutting back on your carcinogens doesn’t mean you have to cut back on flavor, meat, or even grilled meat. Below are some simple and tasty suggestions to help you minimize your exposure before, during, and after you grill.


The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that a teriyaki marinade reduced HCAs by 67%. A turmeric-garlic sauce reduced them by 50% (recipe below)! The key here is to use a thin, vinegar based sauce, sans sugar.

Compare that to a thick concentrated commercial barbecue sauce with additive sugars, which can actually triple the number of HCAs. So, if you’re sitting around the house thinking that you just haven’t had enough carcinogens in your food, well now you know how to fix that problem – slather on a thick BBQ sauce with added sugar.

While these researchers were a) in Hawaii and b) grilling food on some beach somewhere, they somehow found time to do the experiments showing an HCA reduction in meats with marinades containing herbs and spices: notably those related from the mint family such as basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, and thyme. Most of these herbs are rich in three compounds – carnosic acid, carnosol and rosmarinic acid – all of which are potent antioxidants.

So be sure to include these tasty herbs in your marinade!


You have many settings on your barbecue, but for meat don’t opt for “blow torch”. To avoid creating carcinogens, start on a medium high temp and flip the meat often. This will avoid charring, and that will avoid HCAs.

Another great technique, in case you have multiple burners within your grill, is to grill up each side quickly, and then turn off the burner that lies directly under the meat while keeping the other burners on. That basically transitions your grill into an oven.


Once you’ve cooked the food, there is one very commonsense thing you can do to maximize flavor and minimize carcinogens.

First of all, don’t eat char. Think about it. Char. It’s just burnt meat. It’s carbon. I know you like the idea of going all caveman with you singed side of mammoth, but char doesn’t even have any flavor. Don’t eat it … cut it off! If you do this one simple thing, you’ll eliminate many of the HCAs that do happen to get through your marinade net.

Bottom line?

Even briefly marinating foods is effective in reducing the amount of carcinogens — in some cases by as much as 92 to 99%. As a rule, use about one-half cup of marinade for every pound of food, although large pieces may need more to cover the food’s surface adequately.

The amount of marinating time is up to you, because it only takes a few minutes to get the full cancer-preventing effect. Longer times will just add more flavor – good health has never been so tasty!

By going low and slow, and refusing to eat char, you’ll be able to get outside, grill, and add flavor to your barbeque without compromising your health at the same time!